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Thursday, 4 October, 2001, 23:08 GMT 00:08 UK
Vitamin gene 'may fight breast cancer'
Breast cancer cells
Breast cancer is a major killer
A gene which helps the body benefit from vitamin D may also protect against breast cancer, research suggests.

Experts already believe that vitamin D protects against breast cancer and in some forms may even be used to shrink existing tumours.

Now researchers in London have discovered that some women, who have a fault in the gene required to make use of the vitamin, are twice as likely to develop breast cancer as other women.

This study may help us identify more women who are at risk from breast cancer

Dr Lesley Walker
Vitamin D is essential for building strong bones because it helps the body to take up calcium from food, but it may also help protect against breast cancer because it has a role in cell growth and death.

Researchers have shown that some women have a different version of a gene involved with vitamin D called the vitamin D receptor (VDR) and may be less able to benefit from this protective effect.

Tailored treatment

Now that scientists have identified this version of the gene, it may be possible to find out which women are at increased risk from breast cancer and tailor treatment to reduce this risk.

Researcher Dr Kay Colston said: "Vitamin D normally binds to the VDR like a key fits into a lock. There is now evidence that vitamin D may protect against some cancers but this only works if vitamin D 'fits' the VDR."

Scientists looked at different versions of the VDR gene in 241 healthy women and 181 breast cancer patients.

They found that one version, called BsmI, gave women an increased risk of developing the disease.

Women with this version were twice as likely to have breast cancer and were also prone to having more dangerous tumours.

Dr Colston said: "Our studies indicate that a woman's risk from breast cancer may also depend on the form of the VDR gene that she has.

"It is now important to find out exactly how these small changes in the gene affect the way in which vitamin D acts on breast cancer cells."

Dr Lesley Walker, Director of Cancer Information for The Cancer Research Campaign, said: "There has been a great deal of research into vitamin D and its effects on cancer, and some potential new cancer treatments are based on vitamin D.

"This study is very important because it may help us identify more women who are at risk from breast cancer and gives us more clues on how to treat them."

The research is published in the British Journal of Cancer.

See also:

01 Oct 01 | Health
Cancer risk becomes clearer
29 Sep 01 | Health
Breast cancer gene queries surge
26 Sep 01 | Health
Mothers avoid breast cancer chat
17 Mar 00 | C-D
Breast Cancer
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